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China, Japan and South Korea, Amid Regional Rivalries, Line Up Leaders’ Summit

The leaders of China, Japan and South Korea will meet, possibly next year, in the latest attempt to ease regional tensions heightened by North Korea’s weapons programme and a more visible US military presence.

During a meeting in the South Korean port city of Busan on Sunday, the three Asian countries’ foreign ministers agreed to step up cooperation in key areas, including security, and to lay the groundwork for what would be the first leaders’ summit in four years.

The weekend’s trilateral meeting – the first between the neighbours’ foreign ministers since 2019 – came soon after the Chinese and US presidents, Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, met on the sidelines of the Apec summit in California.

The Asia summit – preparations for which began in September during talksbetween the countries’ deputy foreign ministers – is in part designed to address Chinese concerns over closer security ties between Japan, South Korea and the US.

While not expected to take place this year, the meeting between Xi of China, the South Korean president, Yoon Suk Yeol, and the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, is expected “in the near future”, according to South Korea’s national security adviser, Cho Tae-yong.

“The three ministers reaffirmed … to hold the summit, the pinnacle of the trilateral cooperation system, at the earliest, mutually convenient time,” South Korea’s foreign minister, Park Jin, told reporters. “We agreed to expedite the necessary preparations.”

In comments clearly aimed at security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, urged the three countries to “oppose ideological demarcation and resist putting regional cooperation into camps”.

North Korea was also on the agenda during Sunday’s 100-minute meeting, a few days after Pyongyang successfully put a spy satellite incorporating banned ballistic missile technology into orbit, in its latest show of defiance against UN-led sanctions targeting its nuclear and missile programmes.

Kamikawa and Jin condemned the launch and agreed to strengthen their response to recent deals to supply North Korean munitions to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine. Park reportedly asked for China to play a “constructive” role in encouraging Pyongyang to denuclearise.

China is North Korea’s main ally and biggest aid donor, but few believe Beijing has the diplomatic clout to convince the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to abandon his nuclear ambitions.

The region’s wartime legacy cast a shadow over this weekend’s talks, however, following a South Korean high court ruling last week demanding that Japan compensate 16 women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the second world war.

Kamikawa described the ruling as “extremely regrettable” and requested that Seoul take measures to correct the “violation of international law”.

Historians say tens of thousands of “comfort women” were coerced into working in the brothels during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Japan insists that all compensation claims relating to that period were settled when the countries normalised bilateral ties in 1965.

China, South Korea and Japan – which together account for about a quarter of global GDP – agreed to hold annual summits from 2008, but the meetings were derailed by historical and territorial disagreements, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Source: The Guardian